Deepak Chopra: Curious Innovator

Deepak Chopra: Curious Innovator

This is part of an interview series about Lean Transformation and Lean Culture with Senior Leaders and Lean Experts from across the planet.

Marcel Bamert: Who are you and what is your mission in the field of Lean?

Deepak Chopra: I’m a curious innovator, professionally as well as personally and hence Lean is very close to me. So why curious? Curiosity has helped me to learn and do things differently since my childhood. If I weren’t curious, I would always be okay with the systems as they are. The curiosity helps me to keep asking if there is a better way of doing it. I describe myself as innovative because I like to put new solutions on the table. Combining curiosity and innovation translates into figuring out new approaches and new ways of doing things, and has brought me to what I do today. Professionally, I’m a Master Black Belt; I’m a certified Scrum Master, I am a Best Practices Auditor, I have also learned Big Data, I’m into design thinking, have been a multispecialty consummate consultant for lot of fortune 500 organizations across the world – The Genesis is that I am a curious innovator.

Marcel Bamert: That’s an excellent summary of what you do because I thought about how I could make it into words what you do. You mentioned Agile, Lean, Digital Transformation, you studied at Standford and MIT. Currently, you are a Vice President at Genpact. I read the book “Cultural Transformation” by John Mattone. Among the fourteen interviewed CEO’s was NV “Tiger” Tyagarajan, CEO and President of Genpact. With that background in mind, I thought it would be a perfect fit if we talked about Lean. How did you start your Lean journey?

Deepak Chopra: Interestingly, I joined an organization which was already building a unique software product, and they were very focused on the features of the product. I got involved in the R&D to build it into an end-to-end viable product that could be marketed. When I jumped in, I somehow happened to see a lot of avoidable mistakes that they were making. My Lean journey began when we were testing. I happened to analyze those defects. I found that there were so many of them that we could avoid by putting better practices upstream. I had started my Lean journey in the software systems world. Later, as I went into consulting, and I got a chance to travel around the world and look at different best practices & industries. I matured on my self-belief that “there is a better way” is applicable everywhere. Irrespective whether you’re doing a service or you’re manufacturing or you’re doing IT, the principle of looking at the steps that you’re following, and trying to reimagine or change them for continuous improvement applies everywhere. Hence every visit to a new industry or function was a new start of my lean journey. As I moved into different client environments & challenges, I started by understanding this principle’s application better, and it continued throughout my career. I think the initiation was there, but it continued all throughout. I’ve been fortunate to do Lean in literally all types of businesses not limited to any industry or function.

Marcel Bamert: I think this goes back to what you mentioned before, your sense of curiosity and your drive for finding solutions and seeing the patterns in the defects. How did your leadership style evolve on your Lean journey?

Deepak Chopra: I think a lot of it is experiential. When I look back at my journey, I think I’ve always been an assumed leader, before a designated leader. What I mean by that is even when I was in my school days I arose as the leader of the class events multiple times. When I grew up more, I remember we used to have different school captains and I was shortlisted as one of them even though when I said I don’t want to. Teacher had to call me aside and said you have to. I won with overwhelming votes. So leadership was in me even when I was a kid, and has been ever since even when I grew up in the working environment where we sit today. Working globally and consulting has had a significant influence on my leadership style. I was able to bring a lot of “innovative thought leadership”, for a variety of stakeholders in mind, to the table for different clients, different scenarios straight across geographies. There’s another leadership trait “convince” for which I would give credit to one of the organizations that I was working for, where I was leading a team that was much more senior to me. It was early in my career, and many having 15-20+ years of professional experience.  It was challenging to stand up as someone new and say that there is a better way of doing with each time chances being that they’re not going to bite it very easy.

 

I think the experience to convince people by showing them the value adds versus using authority, groomed me as a leader. If I was their boss, I could stand up, and say I expect you to do this and they will have to do. I’m very comfortable with any setup, irrespective of designations or authority or reporting. I empathize with roles and then tend to drive it. It’s not a given, that just because you report to me, you need to listen to me. Convincing has become my natural leadership style and plays an important part in any Lean Transformation and Change Management. In order to drive change, you need to have people talk to you.

Marcel Bamert: What are the success factors in building a sustainable lean culture?

Deepak Chopra: I think that a lot of the success has to do with storytelling. Storytelling is all about sharing and discussing your successes as well as your failures. The second success factor is a belief that there is always a better way of doing things. I think these are the two basic mantras to make or break any Lean Transformation. If you have a belief that there is a better way of doing it you will constantly be on the lookout for doing something new which will lead to innovation. But at the same time, if you’re not sharing what you’re learning, you might have pockets with reinvention of wheels or repeat failures. If you do storytelling, people get attracted to your success. By sharing your failures, you are signaling that not every path will be a success and it is ok. Storytelling is essential to me to not repeat mistakes and to keep the transformation real.

So to me, storytelling and the belief that there is a better way, are the two essential ingredients to any successful transformation.

Marcel Bamert: That’s powerful. Did you have mentors on your journey?

Deepak Chopra: I learn from everyone; I learn from my kid, I learn from my boss, I learn from my customers. My personal belief is that anyone can mentor you, but you have to be ready to be mentored. That’s what I did throughout my career. I learned a lot in consulting and auditing. I used to do a lot of auditing and consulting, where people shared their projects with me, and I learned a lot from them. In some other instances I would recall a previous story and would tell them how the team solved the problem then and ask them, why don’t you try this? So, yes, I’ve had mentors. I’ve been fortunate throughout my career to have a lot of great colleagues, and leaders. All my bosses have influenced me to become who I am today. I respect all of them. So if you’re going to ask me, do you have any one individual or senior as a mentor, my answer is ‘no’ but if you’re going to ask me do you have mentors the answer is ‘yes’, lots of them every day hence I just can’t name.

Marcel Bamert: The majority of people think that mentors have to be older than yourself, but I have the same belief as you, that anyone can teach me something. My four-year-old son, for example, can teach me how to be present and mindful.

Deepak Chopra: That’s very true. I’ve learned from my two-year-old boy the same lesson. I’m learning so much from him. The way he looks at things – he’s fearless but cautious at the same time.  If you say that there’s a better way, you need to be courageous to make things happen. You shouldn’t be afraid to try, no matter what it is. We can learn a lot from kids about problem-solving because they are not biased.

Marcel Bamert: There is a common misunderstanding, of how kids learn, it is not trial and error, they learn by repeating what works. A child never repeats what doesn’t work.

Deepak Chopra: Very accurate. I think the best message is that you should be ready to learn, and you can learn something from everyone.

Marcel Bamert: How do you keep leaders and employees engaged to do the change? How can you motivate people to be curious and to want the change?

Deepak Chopra: I think one of the biggest things is problem-solving. Everyone has some problems. As long as you tell them that this is a problem-solving technique you’ll attract them. If you use storytelling well and facilitate problem-solving, the motivation will stick. I think that I always managed with leaders and the “doers” through this, to make them understand lean transformation as a problem-solving approach. If you have a problem, this approach can help you solve it. That problem could be a problem of a negative nature or could be an opportunity. An opportunity is a positive problem. Leadership usually gets attracted by the opportunities and the doers are motivated, when the problems are solved.

Number two, I always try to answer the question what is in it for them. So as long as you’re able to get to that answer first, the motivation remains. If you’re only trying to do an initiative top down, you are not going to keep them engaged. When you’re able to answer what is in for them, their engagement, commitment, and appreciation increases.

Marcel Bamert: This goes back to storytelling, a story always combines the why the what and the how. I think that’s how a child naturally learns. If you tell your children, you have to do it because I say so, they will not do it. But if you tell them why it is fun, they will spend hours doing it.

Deepak Chopra: Even peer influence helps a lot. So let’s say I have a problem which may be related to my business or my current working and then through the storytelling, I realize a peer of mine has managed to solve the same problem, I get inspired. Motivational quotes and TED talks are making sure that we relate to the story and then I try to get an answer what is in it for me.

Marcel Bamert: The more specific a story is, the more universal it becomes because you can relate exactly to it. If you have a child that is sick, you can relate to someone else’s story about how his child has suffered. Do you think that storytelling can be taught or is it something that you are born with?

Deepak Chopra: I think storytelling is a part of leadership. I don’t want to answer the question whether a leader is born or made. I’m just going to leave it at that. By design everybody is a story listener, few can tell it back. To teach storytelling, you have to teach them communication and creative thinking. Now communication channels for storytelling may be different. So if I look through a bigger lens then yes, you can teach storytelling, but the mediums and the communication channels by which each communicates is specific to every individual. Some people are very good at drawing and creating graphs and charts and pictures and cartoons; then they can express very well. But you ask them to stand in front of an audience to speak; they can’t. So are they still good storytellers the answer is ‘yes’, but in front of those who can speak well, the answer is ‘no’. I know I’m giving you a more philosophical answer but reality and my belief is that everybody is a storyteller, but our communication channels are different. The most popular ones are the ones that use communication channels that masses can relate to.

Marcel Bamert: The next question is about how do you combine Lean philosophy and agile to build a fast company?

Deepak Chopra: Let’s put it this way if you’re able to relate the two words, behavior and culture, to Lean and Agile, it is how it can be looked at. Agile is a culture and Lean is behavior. Agility to me is a culture, it’s a mindset, it’s the way you think. Lean, however, is an execution view, do I do it efficiently, do I do it correctly? That’s the way I relate the two.

Marcel Bamert: I’ve never looked at it that way.

Deepak Chopra: I’m glad I could give you a new view.

Marcel Bamert: Is there any statement you would like to make to round-up the interview?

Deepak Chopra: One of the quotes that I have been pondering about and have modified a bit is the following:

I believe change is inevitable however progress is a choice. So choose progress and change.

Marcel Bamert: Thank you so much for your time. I think this conversation has been compelling. I feel inspired by hearing your talk and your way of storytelling.

Deepak Chopra:  It’s good to hear your views too. And like we discussed you never know who can teach you something.  During the interview, I learned from you.

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